Gender Role Stereotypes- Feminist View
The purpose of this work is to analyse how gender role stereotypes are portrayed in the plays: “Streetcar Named Desire” and “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof”, both written by Tennessee Williams in 1947 and 1955 correspondently. First of all, I will define gender role stereotyping and identify some traditional gender role stereotypes. Then, I will share the author’s biography in connection to the topic. Last but not least, I will include some references in order to support research. Finally, a conclusion with my own thought will be provided. Introduction
No one is born knowing that crying is unmanly or that playing soccer is unladylike. Once a child is born, he or she becomes identified with cultural concepts of what a boy or girl should be like. Children are born male or female, but they have to learn to be masculine or feminine. However, every society assigns different roles to its members according to sex. These sex roles are sets of cultural expectations that define how men and women are supposed to act according to the norms of their society in any given time: “We all know her. She smiles at us from billboards or stares seductively out from magazines covers.
She is beautiful and sexually available, but she never seems to be doing anything. Once married and settled down, however, she loses her allure. When faced with dirty floors and clogged drains, she is completely helpless until a male voice tells her what to do. She worries that she can’t make up a decent cup of coffee or get her husband’s shirts clean. She is lovable but just plain dumb”. “We all know him, too. He is fearless, adventurous, and competent in every field. Whether facing down a gunslinger in a saloon ordering champagne in a nightclub, he is always in control of the situation.
He also plays cool with women. He might let a woman lean on him for a while, but he refuses to be domesticated. When he is not climbing a mountain or racing his sports car, he likes to relax by drinking beer and playing games with other men”. Although we all know these people, few of us have ever met anyone like them. They are the feminine and masculine images that appear before us without even being aware. Magazines, TV programs, a variety of advertisements offer us examples of how gender is reproduced trough media and ideology. Born male or female does not mean being masculine or feminine.
Gender has to do with the social, psychological and cultural characteristics associated with masculinity and femininity. We can define gender role stereotyping as a set of expected behavior, attitudes, beliefs and emotions of men and women. It’s also a cultural mechanism that might differ across cultures. However, what we perceive as being masculine or being feminine depends on how society dictates what is socially acceptable or not. “When carried to extremes, sex-role stereotyping leads to sexist attitudes and practices. For example, the physical abuse of women through wife beating and rape”.
Unfortunately, traditional gender role stereotyping might affect social relationships, they bring upon conflict, social inequality as well as unfair treatment because of a person’s gender. In the fifties, particularly in the South of the United States, a commonly patriarchal idea was that men were hard and tough, while women were soft and vulnerable. In connection to women, common stereotypes such as “the mother, the submissive wife and the southern belle”, are portrayed as “an obedient and passive woman. According to research, submissive women are portrayed as “a nurturing wife, mother or muse”.
Traditionally, the wife’s role was to stay at home and take care of the children while her husband worked and brought money to the house. Also, these particular women might have a tendency to put up with their men’s violent behavior and abuse. So, by following norms and values in society, the traditional wife reflects the stereotypical role of a woman. Another common female stereotype is the “Southern belle”. The typical Southern belle has the chance to reach the status of a Southern Lady when she has received the right education. In addition, she is conceived as beautiful, graceful, charming and virtuous.
Moreover, Southern belles are very sensitive and aware of how they are perceived by people around them. The desired behavior for Belles is stick to social patterns based on good manners. The concept of gentlemen callers courting women is one of the results of their upbringing. In connection to men, one male stereotype is the macho. According to the Dictionary and Thesaurus —Merriam-Webster Online, being macho is defined as being “aggressively virile”. Furthermore, the term macho originates from the word machismo, which means, “a strong sense of masculine pride: an exaggerated masculinity”.
Being macho is also described as “having or showing qualities that also agree with traditional ideas about what men are like: manly or masculine in a very noticeable or exaggerated way” Another gender role which cannot be overlooked is the homosexual. Through the lens of society of the 50’s, homosexuality was neither spoken of nor considered a subject that could be explicitly referenced, particularly in The South of The United States. As a matter of fact, for much of 20th century, gay people were considered mentally ill or suffering from a psychological personality disorder.
Also, during the Second Red Scare, homosexuals faced the growing oppression of Senator McCarthy and his “witch hunts”. Being homosexual was associated with subversion, un-American behavior. The popular opinion was that homosexuals were capable of the worst crimes against their own country and God. Gender Roles in Tennessee William’s life Williams once said “he had never written about anything he had not experienced in his life first. So, most of the conflicts or issues portrayed in his plays can be considered autobiographical.
His upbringing was characterized by Puritanism, which was of vital importance in the family. This might be the reason why he struggled with his sexuality throughout his youth. In connection with his father, Cornelious Williams, Tennessee perceived that he was as boisterous as frightening. So, we can assume that his father displayed the same type of harsh and brutal characteristics as Big Daddy in “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” and Stanley Kowalsky in “A Streetcar Named Desire” as I will discuss later on. The fact that he also grew up in The South of The United States cannot be disregarded.
The region’s heat, its storms, the colourful imagery, the music and the rhythms of the language were the context of his settings and dialogues as well. Post-war American society turned the balance of power between men and women upside down. During the fifties’, men resumed their dominant role. Tennessee Williams wrote “A Streetcar Named Desire” and “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” around the time this reversal was occurring. Williams was a homosexual from the South, so most of his plays deal with physical, emotional and sexual conflict around this matter.
Williams was also interested in femininity. It’s an interesting fact that his female characters, Maggie and Blanche, were not only central figures but also desiring subjects in both plays. Gender roles stereotypes are reflected in the dynamics of character’s behaviour, dialogues, silence and even stage directions. When Williams decided to come out and assume his sexuality, he was known for leading a very promiscuous life. The themes of desire and isolation show, among other things, the influence of having grown up in a society where being gay was considered outrageous.
William won The Pulitzer Prize twice—for A Streetcar Named Desire (1947) and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1955), and became one of the greatest playwrights His plays challenged social values and social preconceptions. He was forced to remove some scenes by some Hollywood and Broadway producers because of his allusions to sexuality. Throughout that scenario, “Williams’s life was full of sadness, especially during the 1960s when he suffered from alcoholism, drugs abuse, depression, and the death of his companion, Frank Merlo in 1963.
Williams rebounded in the 1970s, continuing to write until the time of his death in 1983”. Stereotyping the Feminine Blanche Dubois, from Streetcar, is from the “old South”. She is the faded-southern, genteel lady. Being beautiful and charming, as well as educated, Blanche constantly gives remarks and asks about her looks throughout the play. Clothes, powder and make-up dictate her life. Appearance is of enormous importance to Blanche. This obsession with her looks corresponds to the portrayal of a stereotypical Southern belle. “I want you to look at my figure!
She turns around) You know I haven’t put on one ounce in ten years, Stella? ” Blanche: with “feverish vivacity,” Blanche says: “Now, then, let me look at you [Stella]. But don’t you look at me, Stella, no, no, no, not till later, not till I’ve bathed and rested. And turn that over-light off! Turn that off! I won’t be looked at in this merciless glare” Another good example of Blanche’s desire to be considered attractive is portrayed in scene two when Stanley searches through her luggage. STANLEY:” It looks like you raided some stylish shops in Paris. BLANCHE. Ha-ha! Yes – clothes are my passion!
STANLEY: What does it cost for a string of fur-pieces like that? BLANCHE: Why, those were a tribute from an admirer of mine! STANLEY: He must have had a lot of – admiration! BLANCHE: Oh, in my youth I excited some admiration! But look at me now! Would you think it possible that I was once considered to be – attractive? Similarly, Maggie Pollitt in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, although regarded as an outcast for not having babies, is shown as exquisitely beautiful. She personifies female sexuality, bragging about her body and men’s desire for it in order to get her unloving husband’s attention.
Posing in front of the mirror, Williams allows her to question her role: (Margaret`s stage directions): What she sees is the long oval mirror and she rushes straight to it with a grimace and says: “Who are you? ” Margaret: “I’m confident of it. That’s why I’m keeping myself attractive. You’ll see me again like other men see me” Margaret: Look Brick! She stands before the long oval mirror, touches her breasts and then her hips with her two hands. How high my body stays on me! – Nothing has fallen on me! – not a fraction….. Other men still want me.
” Margaret: “Way he always drops eyes to my body when I’m talking to him, drop his eyes to my boops and links his old chops!! Ha ha” Though Blanche and Maggie do certainly display what are considered to be feminine qualities and what is expected from Southern Belles, their other more masculine features are also emphasized, for example their reliance on alcohol. Both characters challenge the typical female stereotype. So, despite being feminine, they are also transgressors: Blanche: “Well, now you talk. Open your pretty mouth and talk while I look around for some liquor.
I know you must have some liquor on the place” Margaret: “Margaret looks on indulgent humor, sipping Dubonnet “on the rocks” and watching Brick. In spite of the fact they had different personalities and social upbringings, both Maggie and Blanche were portrayed hysterical, dissatisfied women left prostrate before physical violence, contempt and indifference, just for the sake of being one of a kind. Their statuses as women were called into question by their failure to perform the expected behavior: “She is as famous in Laurel as if she was the President of the United States, only she is not respected by any party!
Mitch to Blanche) “You are not clean enough to bring in the house with my mother” (Mitch to Blanche): “But I was fool enough to believe you was straight” (Big Mamma to Maggie): “Do you make Brick happy in bed? ”- When a marriage goes on the rocks, the rocks are there, right there! ” (Margaret to Brick): “they gloat over us being childless. And this is my time by the calendar to conceive” (Dixie to Maggie): “You’re jealous because you can’t have any kids” (Maggie to Brick): “And my poor mamma, having to maintain some semblance of social position, to keep appearances up” Here we see clearly Maggie’s ability to seem both girlish and boyish.
In order to survive, she must take care of Brick, and she must also use her feminine side to charm and manipulate others. She transgresses the stereotypical gender role assigned to her when she finds that the role does not help her in her plan to secure wealth, security, and a baby. Williams also presents other female characters who exemplify society’s preconceptions of the times. We can find these examples in Stella Kowalsky from Streetcar and Mae Politt from Cat. In strong contrast to the stereotype of the Southern Belle represented by Blanche stands her sister Stella.
She embodies a lot of characteristics of the stereotypical submissive housewife throughout the play. Stella was portrayed as a dutiful housewife, a symbol of femininity from a current perspective. The mother stereotype stands for bringing life to earth. Since Stella is pregnant in the play, there is a strong connection to this image. Her husband overpowers her by abusing his position and his physical strength: “He hurls a plate to the floor” “That’s how I’ll clear the table! (He seizes her arm. ) (.. ). “In the first place, when men are drinking and playing poker anything can happen.
It’s always a powder keg. He didn’t know what he was doing… He was as good as a lamb when I came back and he’s really very, very ashamed of himself”. This part of the text indicates that Stella justifies Stanley’s behavior by saying it is not as serious as it seemed. Stella is rarely called by her name, and is continuously referred to as “honey, “baby” or sweetie” instead. Another stereotypical portrayal of a wife and woman is Maggie’s sister-in law, Mae. She’s also described satirically as a “Monster of Fertility”, fulfilling her role as the perfect wife by bearing “no-neck monsters”.
Big Daddy: “But Gooper’s wife’s a good breeder, you’ve got to admit she`s fertile. ” Margaret: “He can’t stand Bother Man’s Wife, that monster of fertility” Stereotyping the Masculine “The poker players – Stanley, Steve, Mitch, and Pablo – wear colored shirts, solid blues, a purple, a red–and-white check, a light green, and they are men at the peak of their physical manhood, as coarse and direct and powerful as the primary colors”- Tennessee Williams, Streetcar named Desire The setting, the atmosphere and colours, convey the physical strength of those men and their dominant role.
Stanley, the male protagonist in Streetcar, is portrayed as violent as brutal. Stanley’s behavior confirms certain aspects of a typical macho: Stanley’s stage directions: “Stalks fiercely through the portieres into the bedroom. He crosses the small white radio and snatches it off the table. With a shouted oath, he tosses the instrument out of the window. ” In scene 1 stage directions, Stanley throws a package to his wife. Through this behavior, Williams is pointing out his feeling of superiority from this standpoint.
He also wants to symbolize Stanley’s male dominance in a what- was- considered a patriarchal society. In scene eight, he destroys some plates after having been called a pig by his wife because he eats with his fingers. STELLA: Mr. Kowalski is too busy making a pig of himself to think of anything else! STANLEY: “That’s right, baby. STELLA: Your face and your fingers are disgustingly greasy. Go and wash up and then help me clear the table. (He hurls a plate to the floor. ) STANLEY: That’s how I’ll clear the table! (He seizes her arm.
Don’t ever talk that way to me! “Pig — Polack — disgusting — vulgar — greasy! ” them kind of words have been on your tongue and your sister’s too much around here! ” Not only is Stanley violent towards Stella again by seizing her arm, but also manifests his anger through destroying cutlery. Those two scenes are clear examples of verbal and especially physical aggression towards women. Williams describes his sexual behavior right from the beginning of the play in the stage directions: “Since earliest manhood the center of his life has been pleasure with women.
He sizes women up and glance, with sexual classifications”. Stanley also rates and classifies women according to his sexual desires: Blanche: “You’re simply, straightforward and honest, a little bit on the primitive side I should think. To interest you a woman would have to – [she pauses with indefinite gesture. ] Stanley: Lay…her cards on the table” This euphemism – “lay her cards on the table” has a sexual connotation, implying what he usually expects from women in general. A further example it is shown in scene 10: “We’ve had this date with each other from the beginning”
Stanley gets his power by means of his gender. He only cares about his own desires: Stanley to Blanche: “Be comfortable is my motto” Williams also shows men’s power by creating a sense of authority during poker: “Nothing belongs on a poker table but cards, chips, and whisky” “Poker should not be played in a house with women” As the play progresses, the conflict between Blanche and Stanley becomes obvious. He feels threatened by her presence most of the time. So, in order to revert this feeling, he subjects her through emotional and physical abuse.
In this sense, when Stanley rapes Blanche, Williams is not only showing the audience the ultimate act of cruelty and abuse of power but also is conveying the power struggle between male and female as a whole, leaving the male empowered and the female marginalized and completely fragile. We can also see the segregation between men and women clearly through the character of Big Daddy in Cat, who appears as the “patriarch” and the owner of the plantation. His name implies his immense wealth empire, successful in the eyes of a capitalist society. Big Daddy to Brick:” It’s lucky I’m a rich man.
It is sure it’s lucky, well, I am a rich man, Brick, yep, and I am a mighty rich ma. Y’know how much I am worth… Close on ten million in cash and blue chip stocks, outside, mind you, of twenty-eight thousand acres of the richest land this side of the valley Nile” Big Daddy lacks respect for women in general, specially his wife. He demeans her constantly: “Your loud voice everywhere, your fat old body butting in here and there”. “Bossing, talking. Sashaying your fat old boy around the place I made! I made this place! ” “I haven’t been able to stand the sight, the sound, or smell of that woman for forty years now!- even when I laid her! ” He clearly defines the gender role he expects his son to perform as a sexual transgressor. In his eyes, women exist to please men. Even his daughters in -law are portrayed in an animalistic light: I’ll smother her in- minks! Ha ha! I’ll strip her naked and smother her in minks and choke her with diamonds and smother her with minks and hump her from hell to breakfast. Ha aha ha ha hha! “But Gooper’s wife is a good breeder; you’ve got to admit she’s fertile” “That’s right boy. They look like cats on a hot tin roof” Stereotyping the homosexual “What is straight?
A line can be straight, or a street, but the human heart, oh, no, it’s curved like a road through mountains”. – Tennessee Williams “Thus most of Tennessee Williams’s plays—especially Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and A Streetcar Named Desire— focus on struggles with homosexuality in a very straight society”. To do so, Williams’s plays constantly speak of gender, and almost as constantly of sexual orientation. In the 1940s and the 1950s, many young American men committed suicide because they could not deal with their homosexuality in a heterosexist environment.
In both plays the homosexuals have already committed suicide before the plays start. Blanche’s husband Allan in Streetcar and Brick’s closest friend, Skipper, in Cat. In Streetcar there are fewer references to homosexuality than in Cat, though: ” I know! I know! You disgust me! ” “There was something different about the boy, a nervousness, a softness and tenderness which wasn’t like a man’s, although he wasn’t the least bit effeminate-looking-still- that thing was there” “This beautiful young man was a degenerate” However, in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Tennessee Williams tells us something about the setting in his notes for the designer.
The play takes place in “the bed-sitting-room of a plantation home in the Mississippi Delta. ” The style of this room hasn’t changed much since it was occupied by the original owners of the place, Jack Straw and Peter Ochello, a pair of old bachelors who shared this room all their lives together. Even though, the euphemism “a pair of old bachelors” and the fact that they shared the room is not conveying factual references about their sexual orientation, it might be assumed that Williams is accumulating references to the great love Straw and Ochello felt for one another.
Both plays seem to highlight how social conventions or constrains played a significant role on the people who felt differently. The emphasis on Bricks disdain and terror is highly stressed by Williams in his conversation with Big Daddy in Act 2, alluding to the society prejudice against homosexuality in this era: Brick: “you think me and Skipper did, did, did! Sodomy! – together? ducking sissies? Queers? Is that what you- …. Poured in his mind the dirty, false idea that we were, him and me, was a frustrated case of that old pair of sisters. “Don’t you know how people feel about things like that?
How, how, disgusted they are by things like that? Why at Ole Miss when it was discovered a pledge to our fraternity, Skipper’s and mine, did a, attempted to do a, unnatural thing wish- From everything stated before Tennessee Williams dramas? offer a good basis of analysis for many of the society’s mind set towards men and women‘s gender role in the fifties. Through a deep analysis, we can also perceive Williams’ point of view on the matter and how he dared to challenge society’s preconceptions of gender stereotyping. He owned a particular style distinguished by its grotesque characterization and a blending of comedy and tragedy.
His plays can be considered as a means to explore the social values of the Old South. Also, they can be conceived as a personal reflection of his experiences regarding gender struggle. Conclusion After doing this paper, I found it quite interesting how these perceptions of male and female were depicted in Tennessee Williams’s dramas. Both Streetcar Named Desire and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Williams showed us his extraordinary ability to portray his time’s societal views in terms of gender. He depicted his characters as ridiculous, even grotesque but realistic at the same time.
They are accurate representations of the gender stereotypes of the period they were created. I became so fascinated by the different ways in which Williams lets us pose ourselves questions such as: What does being “feminine” mean? What does being “masculine” mean? What does being “straight” mean? Who defines these roles? Would you go with the flow? Or would you dare yourself to break free from the prescribed social roles you were confined and swim against the current? Williams asserts through his female characters that within the context of that society, women who challenged the feminine stereotype were forced to submission or surrender.